Professor Steve Balbus

Professor Balbus recognised by IOP

Astronomy and astrophysics

Professor Steven Balbus has been awarded the Institute of Physics’ Paul Dirac Medal and Prize 2021, and elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in recognition of his personal contribution to the advancement of physics as a discipline and a profession. The IOP gold Dirac Medal recognises his fundamental contributions to the theory of accretion disc turbulence and the dynamical stability of astrophysical fluids, breaking new ground by establishing the critical role played by weak magnetic fields.

Professor Balbus ranks among the most influential astrophysical fluid dynamicists of his generation. His interests and contributions are wide-ranging and his major contributions include, but are not limited to: explaining the origin of turbulence in accretions discs, discovering several important instabilities in magnetised plasmas that remain the focus of current research, developing a novel and accurate theory for the sun’s internal rotation, and pioneering the theory of time-dependent black hole accretion discs.

Most recently, Professor Balbus has led the development of the theory of time-dependent `thin' relativistic discs appropriate for Kerr black holes and, with his PhD student Andrew Mummery, applied the formalism successfully to detailed spectral observations of discs formed from tidally disrupted stars that have passed dangerously close to a black hole.

‘I am both delighted and deeply honoured to have been elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and to have been awarded the Dirac Medal and Prize for 2021,’ comments Professor Balbus. ‘To have one’s work recognised by one’s peers at this level is deeply gratifying. Much of the time I wonder whether what I’m doing makes any sense, so to know that at least some of it is useful and appreciated by other astrophysicists is certainly uplifting! Most of all, I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a physics department of the calibre of Oxford's, with its outstanding faculty and talented students. This is a truly stimulating and exciting place to work.’

‘Steve is an incredibly valued colleague here at Oxford and I am delighted that he has been recognised in this way by the IOP,’ comments Professor Ian Shipsey, head of the Department of Physics. ‘His work continues to inform and advance our understanding of accretion discs and magnetised plasmas and he shares his vast knowledge and passion to inspire a new generation of astrophysicists through his teaching.’

Professor Balbus holds the Savilian chair at Oxford after having held positions at the University of Virginia and the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. His contributions to teaching have been formally recognised by a Teaching Award from Oxford. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society.